Firsts & Lasts

By now I should be used to this. Especially since I began this meandering life as a priest in 1970 when I moved from seminary to Albany NY. Move followed move in quick succession for 12 years. Crossing New York state into Canada and then to Buffalo lengthened the time between moves. Even there I moved within that city.

And with every move comes the bittersweet transition time. Going through the lasts – knowing each one is the last time with friends, at a favorite restaurant, store or event. The sense of loss one feels and others express at the necessary leaving. Knowing that tears WILL be shed and I will leave a piece of myself each time. Yet I also know that I take a piece of where I have been with me as precious memories, friendships and things that have molded and shaped me yet again.

And in leaving one begins arriving in a new place, to a new life amongst new people, a whole new geography to learn by getting lost frequently (at my age not a thrilling thought) and a new and unknown set of joys and challenges ahead. And then the firsts begin. The first friendship made, the first discovery of a new favorite. First upon first upon first.

I speak about how hard it is to leave. Sometimes I imagine the other thinking “so why leave… why not stay, put down roots here…” And that, at times, looks quite appealing. But the reality is that Nancy and I, like other priests and pastors,are not citizens of a place but the possessors of a calling. Believing that somehow we are led by the Spirit to endure the emotional ping pong of the lasts and the firsts. We do it in order to be where we we feel led so that we may add whatever is in us to add to a new community in our feeble attempts to make that corner of the world a bit more like God created it to be.

This is not as altruistic and sacrificial as perhaps I make it sound. Over the years I have received so much from the congregations where I have been. I still maintain connections and friendships in many of them. They enrich my life and have graciously been my teachers. And they allow me the privilege of walking with them in the important moments and passages of life.

Once again I go through the familiar packing of boxes, clearing the clutter and hoping that I will find a similar caring community that I am leaving, make some new friendships, and not be a stranger in the midst for very long. Even as I do, I know that “all will be well and all shall be well…” it is that nagging fear of the unknown that is still there. Not for the first time and not for the last.

Life is a journey whether we stay in one place all our lives or whether we wander a bit. And as this fall begins to gain a winter chill I echo Robert Frost’s sentiments “These woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”

Enjoy your journey – your firsts and your lasts.

About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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